Resident seeks to start Madison Heights time bank

Members needed for skill exchange that will save people time, money

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 16, 2011

MADISON HEIGHTS — It’s a common scenario these days.

Rachel Reyst-Carroll, 37, is a Madison Heights resident and mother of four. She works part time as a research consultant at Janet Ray & Associates, but currently is not working enough to make regular pay, and as such is drawing unemployment.

Like many in the down economy, much of her time is spent trying to make ends meet. So there’s less opportunity — and money — to get other things done.

That’s why she’s trying to start a “time bank” in Madison Heights. So far she has only one other person committed, but to make it work they’ll need more on board.

In a time bank, a dozen or more members of the community network to lend each other their time, talent and resources, earning “time dollars” that can be spent requesting the service of others.

In effect, it’s a skill exchange, functioning not as a direct barter between two people, but as a pay-it-forward system — you did something for someone, so they’ll do something for someone else, and so on. Everyone’s time is the same, whether you’re a doctor or a child — an hour’s an hour. And the end result is you get things done you wouldn’t have otherwise, at no cost other than the minimal fee to get the network started.

“I am a horrible gardener,” Reyst-Carroll said, “and was thinking I might want to have a garden this year, to learn more and teach my children the benefits of growing their own food. Having a time bank would not only highlight the neighbors near me who know how to garden … but would also create an opportunity for me to be more involved with my community and learn a great skill.”

Other examples of the benefits of time banking could include lessons on canning, knitting, auto repair and more, as well as people offering or using transportation, baby-sitting, house maintenance and computer services.

“You don’t have to sign your life away — simply pick something you’re good at and enjoy or were planning on doing anyways,” Reyst-Carroll said. “Because people enjoy sharing their knowledge, time banking is a natural engine that keeps on going once you have enough people in the pool.”

Reyst-Carroll points to the success of the Lathrup Village Time Bank, the first of its kind in Michigan. Since its inception in January 2008, more than 5,000 hours have been exchanged among its membership, which currently weighs in around 125 people, though not all are active.

According to Kim Hodge, director of the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks and co-coordinator of the Lathrup Village TimeBank, these exchanges have included painting, pet care, child care, elder care, transportation, massage, gardening, sewing, cooking, interior design, moving projects, stripping wallpaper, tutoring and minor home repair.

“I’ve told the Madison Heights folks that time banking is not a ‘field of dreams;’ you cannot ‘build it and they will come,’” Hodge said. “It takes a good year to two years to build the foundation for a successful time bank, and beyond that it takes the continued work of a steering committee and hopefully paid staff to keep the time bank alive and thriving. It is as any other organization — it requires care, feeding and resources.”

A time bank group pays a membership fee to TimeBank USA, based in Washington, D.C., to access an online database similar to Facebook, where members provide profiles detailing what skills and resources they offer, and what errands they want done. Need a ride? Punch in “transportation” and see who’s offering a lift. The database also facilitates exchanges and tracks time earned.

There is a $35 introductory kit that provides guidelines for establishing and running a time bank, and there have been incentives to try before you buy, like six months of free access. Membership fees can be $100 per group for a group not exceeding 50, or around $175 per group for a group not exceeding 150, though the fees change.

For Ferndale’s time bank, begun a year ago and now over 40 members strong, individual dues are about $30. Michelle Foster, the time bank’s director, previously said the $30 is more than paid for once you’ve had someone mow your lawn, watch your kids or fix an electrical outlet, not to mention members receive three bonus hours for signing up and another bonus hour for attending the orientation meeting. Additionally, members can receive five bonus hours just for posting three offers and three requests, so right off the bat that’s nine hours in the bank.

“Most recently, members came together for a potluck last Sunday; we played a board game and had dinner together,” Foster said. “We earned hours for just coming together and socializing with our neighbors, and for cooking for each other.

“I think time banking is great for everyone,” she said, “because it gives them a way to plug into the community, meet new people, share services and ideas, and help each other out. William James said, ‘Act as if what you do makes a difference — it does.’ In a time bank, everyone makes a difference and is valued for it.”

Miriam Nemeth is the membership coordinator for the Royal Oak TimeBank, which formed last June and opened to new members last November. They are heavily recruiting new members, and presently have about 26.

“My favorite personal experience has been getting a dog walker for my dog; several people responded positively to that request,” Nemeth said. “I was able to find people with whom both my dog and I felt comfortable. He currently gets walks one to two times a week while I work long hours downtown, and I can tell he really enjoys it. I also broke my arm last year and was able to use the time bank for help around the house.”

Those who have been members of time banks say the benefits are clear, and now Reyst-Carroll hopes to bring this experience to the residents of Madison Heights.

“I would love to see a solid organization form from this, which will act as a safety net and support system for the residents of this city, and bring us all together,” Reyst-Carroll said. “We can be a city that knows one another instead of a city of strangers — one big family.”

Anyone interested in joining or being an administrative member of the Madison Heights TimeBank should contact mhtimebank@gmail.com or call Rachel Reyst-Carroll directly at (248) 259-1706.